October 15, 2009

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (Fear_the_Cow) - Which five players would make up our best offensive line?

A: That's the million dollar question, isn't it? Before we get into the discussion, I will acknowledge that the Texas coaches have much more information to work with when it comes to making personnel decision, especially up-front, so I'll concede that the most informed opinions on this matter are the ones that a lot of people want to challenge.

It's important to also acknowledge that the Longhorns don't have a lot of options across the board. For instance, there's nobody that could really challenge the two starting tackles, which means that Adam Ulatoski and Kyle Hix are pretty much irreplaceable. Of those two, Hix is the guy that needs to really step it up, but he's the guy Texas has to go with at right tackle - he just has to play better.

When you look at the inside players, I think it's again important to understand that the options are somewhat limited. If we're talking about the three interior positions, there are really only five players in the mix with the injury to Mason Walters very early in the season. The only players in the mix for the rotation are seniors Chris Hall and Charlie Tanner, along with juniors Michael Huey and Tray Allen, and sophomore David Snow. Of that group, Snow is the no-brainer - he has to be on the field and he can play any of the three guard positions.

Now we're at a point where I'm not sure what the true best answers are. Tanner, Hall and Huey are all effective players in pass protection, but they haven't held up as well in the running game and seem to have a couple of major breakdowns in each game. Of those three, expectations were the highest for Huey and he might have had the most frustrating day of his career on Saturday against Colorado. All three of these players need to pick it up and I can't really qualify any selection of one over the next guy. When you look at Allen, I'm not sure any of us really know where he's at and what he can be without more extended action.

If you put a gun to my head, I'd go (from left to right): Ulatoski, Tanner, Hall, Snow and Hix.

Q: (Phinnie�) - 1) I've been wondering about the offensive chemistry this season being a little off up until now. I know we have a great offense, but it doesn't seem like we're playing as well as we could. Colt McCoy seems to pass to only a couple receivers, the offensive line seems out-of-whack at times, etc. I was thinking that the offensive struggles might actually be due to our dominant defense. In practice (both during two-a-days and during the season) our offense might have tried plays or moves that our defense just shut down. Of course Colt doesn't trust receiver XYZ because when he threw to him in practice the defense won the day. Against a lesser defense maybe the offense wins more and trust gets built. And maybe the same thing is true with the offensive line/other units? Any thoughts here?

2) I've also been noticing both last season and this season that we seem to go either 3 and out or we score, almost like we or Colt build some rhythm with that initial first down. I was hoping you could dig up the percent of drives which start with a first down and end with a score. Does this seem high, low, or average to you?

A: I think you bring up a really interesting point with your first question and there's probably something to that, at least to some degree (although I couldn't put a percentage on it). From the very moment practice started in August, the defensive has been winning a lot of the practice battles on the field and certainly more than at any other point in Mack Brown's tenure at Texas. When you consider that they are facing a Heisman finalist and an offense that returns so many players, it's amazing to think of the amount of practice time they spent locking up the offense. The idea is supposed to be that the increased competition will make everyone better, but from an offensive standpoint you can certainly see how it could interrupt the development of the unit's timing and confidence. I don't think anyone can go around complaining about the mean, old defense picking on the Texas offense in practice, but I think at least a small concession could be made to this playing a role in the offense's slow development this season. Hell, maybe that 2008 group was able to get into an other-worldly groove last season because they were able to pick on a secondary full of freshmen and a linebacker unit that was still not playing at an elite level. I think it's a great observation on your part.

As for your second question, you'll be happy to know that I spent the better part of two hours on homework on this subject as I try to answer your question.

Here's a breakdown of the Texas drive charts totals through five games:

Total number of drives: 71
Total number of three-and-outs (plus any series that ended in a turnover in under three plays: 19 (26.7%)
Total number of drives with at least one first down: 50 (70.4%)
Total number of first down drives that end with a touchdown: 22 (31.0 %)
Percentage of drives with at least one first down that end in touchdowns: 44.0%
Total number of first down drives that end with a field goal: 9 (12.7 %)
Percentage of drives with at least one first down that result in field goals: 18.0%
Percentage of drives with at least one first down that result in points for UT: 62.0%
Total number of drives that end in touchdowns in fewer than three plays (zero first downs): 2 (2.8%)

In terms of breaking down those numbers and comparing them to other schools across the nation, I'm not sure how they match up, but I did look up Oklahoma's numbers to see how they compare. There are actually two set of numbers, as I included Oklahoma's overall totals and then listed them without including hapless Idaho State.

Total number of drives: 69 (including Idaho State)/ 51 (omitting Idaho State)
Total number of three-and-outs (plus any series that ended in a turnover in under three plays: 21 (30.4%) / 14 (27.5%)
Total number of drives with at least one first down: 46 (66.7%) / 36 (70.6%)
Total number of first down drives that end with a touchdown: 18 (26.1%) / 11 (21.6%)
Percentage of drives with at least one first down that end in touchdowns: 39.1% / 30.6%
Total number of first down drives that end with a field goal: 9 (12.7%) / 9 (25.0%)
Percentage of drives with at least one first down that end in field goals: 19.6% / 25.0%
Percentage of drives with at least one first down that result in points for OU: 58.7% / 55.6%)
Total number of drives that end in touchdowns in fewer than three plays (no first downs): 2 (2.9 percent)

Overall, both teams seem to have very similar numbers, although the biggest difference is that Texas does a 14.0 percent better job of converting drives into touchdowns than Oklahoma if you eliminate non-FBS school from the equation. The bottom line is that the Longhorns are putting point son the board nearly two-thirds of the time they get at least a single first down on a drive, which does indicate that they just need a little bit of steam before being able to do something productive with the ball.

One final little observation: Of McCoy's seven turnovers this season, five have occurred in a short series (less than three plays) and four of those five have occurred inside his own 20-yard line. The biggest thing to take out of the number crunching is that McCoy takes care the ball much better once he's away from his own end zone and is able to pick up a first down in a drive and get into some sort of rhythm.

Q: (Hookem99) - A: Every Longhorn team has its own identity, not just on the field, but off. What is the temperament off this team? We've gone from "Gangsta" to "Lunch Pail" to....?

B: David Greene is the all-time wins leader in NCAA football history, but outside of Athens and that stat, his name has faded away. Colt is very likely to eclipse him this season. No one seems to be talking about this and it's a shame. Where will Colt fall in football history if he doesn't win the Heisman or a national title?

A: I think the identity of this team won't be known until after we get through a little more football, but they have the same kind of feel as the 2008 "Lunch-pail" kids.

As for McCoy's place in history, I think a lot more will be made of that award when he actually breaks it and I think it will really serve his Heisman candidacy well if he can raise his level of play to match last October. His overall place in history won't be known until after this season, but he needs to win a championship of some kind before he's regarded in the very highest levels of discussions.

Q: (Caldonna) - Can you believe it? I spend three years just lurking, and now I send in a question a second time!

First, if the 'Horns are having a hard time establishing the run, why not take a West Coast Offense approach and use short passes to the running backs to serve the same purpose? If I recall, San Francisco really didn't have a running game to write home about back in the 1980's, and they did alright. In fact, I remember John Madden mentioning that the screen pass was their running play when they tore your Cowboys a new one in '94.

Second, also about the running game: Are they putting a redshirt on Chris Whaley? Is he even going to be a running back, when you consider the talent that Mack Brown, Greg Davis and Will Muschamp are looking at in the 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes?

Third: Better bad Western Bad guy: Richard Boone, Lee Van Cleef, or Henry Fonda

A: The Longhorns aren't going to switch over to a West Coast offense while Mack Brown is in town because it's just not something that he or Greg Davis has a lot of experience in. It's important to acknowledge that the Longhorns have become a bit of Texas Tech Light in the last two years because much of their running game has been replaced with the short passing game. All of those little seven-yard plays to Jordan Shipley don't count as running yards, but that's exactly how Texas is replacing those rushing yards, while still being able to march methodically down the field and score points. This is a pass-first, pass-second offense right now and I don't see that changing much.

As for your second question, Whaley is almost certainly headed for a redshirt and his long-term future probably won't be decided until they get a look at what he looks like when he's in shape and has had a season in the off-season conditioning program.

Finally, I'm a Lee Van Cleef guy. Nobody ever did the Spaghetti Western Bad Guy better than he did.

Q: (bowlenMC) - I post this on the message boards but thought I send it to you guys directly anyway.

Texas loves to run WR screen play, I know it's called a couple different things or there are different variation like bubble screen, slip screen, ect. Well, UT loves to run this play but more times than not, it's going to go to John Chiles. Well, on the inside and/or outside of Chiles is a much smaller WR (James Kirkendoll and Marquise Goodwin) that has to throw a block to release him. But 95% of the time Kirkendoll gets thrown aside and the catch goes for short or no gain.

Why don't they get the ball to a smaller, quicker WR and have Chiles throw the block? He's a bigger, bulkier guy. Is it because of his blocking skills or is it because of the coaches wanting to get the ball in Chiles hands? Just wondering the thought process?

A: I think you raise a very good point and it was really magnified in the game against Colorado when Kirkendoll and the other receivers did a very poor job of blocking in the screen/running game. Greg Davis is doing everything he can to involve John Chiles on called plays because he's not usually in McCoy's sightline as he makes his decisions through his natural progressions. The problem with that is the most physical blocker of that group is probably the guy catching the ball and not the ones that are actually blocking. As the season moves along, look for Goodwin to continue to emerge as a player that gets extended reps in the pass-catching part of this equation. In fact, we saw a glimpse of that in the Colorado game when McCoy went to Goodwin on a designed screen play that picked up a first down.

Q: (beam,coke,&horns) - Do you think Colt is so obsessed with completion % it is actually a detriment to the team? It appears we don't try to go vertical very often, allowing the opposing defense to play in a contained area, which also helps them to contain our run game. With all the complaints about GD, I am beginning to wonder if he calls decent plays, but Colt continues to check down in order to get a completion. On the surface, it sounds like a dumb question. I mean, if we complete passes we move the ball, right? But not when passes are two-yard hitches to Chiles (if that is the 1st play against OU I will choke myself on my corny dog) or under 10 yards all day.

A: Colt's obsession is winning football games. I think the coaching staff makes a little too much of the completion percentage number when discussing the effectiveness of the passing game, but I've never sense that McCoy cares about trying to match his record from last season. As I said a little earlier in the article, the Texas short passing game has really evolved into the replacement for the holes in their running game, which is one reason the completion percentage number is so high.

I do agree that the Longhorns and McCoy need to force the issue downfield a little more, but only to help open up an offense that seems to be containing itself within a 10-yard box for three hours every Saturday. More than McCoy being too stubborn, this has a lot more to do with the philosophy of the current scheme.

Q: (krandolph) - 1. Do you think Texas will ever begin to offer juniors? It seems like Mack has usually been ahead of the game in innovating early recruiting. When I notice Oklahoma offering kids before we do, the question comes to mind.

2. List the top 5 guys Texas actually signed but never panned out, for whatever reason since you've have been covering recruiting.

3. Assuming they all sign, who has the chance to make a strong, early impact in the 2010 class.

A: Yes, I do think there will come a time when Texas offers juniors before the senior class is put to bed on National Signing Day, but I can't tell you when it will happen. It's certainly an idea the Texas staff has had to kick the tires on and at some point I believe they'll eventually take that jump, possibly as early as the Class of 2012.

I love the second question. Without doing a ton of research on this (blame Phinnie) on the subject, I'd rank the top 10 since 1997 like this:

1. Robert Timmons - WR - Flower Mound Marcus (Class of 2002)
2. Marco Martin - DT - Mesquite (Class if 2002)
3. Edorian McCulloch - CB - North Garland (Class of 2002)
4. Marquise Johnson - WR - Champaign, Illinois (Class of 2002)
5. Bryan Pickryl - DE - Jenks, Oklahoma (Class of 2002)
6. David Aaron - WR - Marshall (Class of 1997)
7. Sloan Thomas - WR - Klein (Class of 2000)
8. Eric Hardeman - RB - Pflugerville (Class of 2003)
9. Chris Brown - DE - Texas High (Class of 2005)
10. Mike Williams - DE - Lindale (Class of 2002)

Finally, here are a few players I think have a chance to make an instant impact as freshmen in 2002: Aaron Benson, Taylor Bible, Ashton Dorsey, Tevin Jackson, Chris Jones, Darius Terrell and Reggie Wilson.

Q: (Arteez) - 1. What is the status of Blaine Irby? He has to be well along in the rehab stage by now. At least enough to possibly indicate if he will ever play again. Give us something!

2. In your opinion, what is the cause of the disconnect between Colt and any receiver not named Dan Buckner or Shipley? Could it be that he was working on developing a great relationship with Brandon Collins only to have that ripped away leaving a void? Or is Colt just off seeing as he has been throwing a bit high?

3. What's your guess as to who will replace Roddrick Muckleroy's production at linebacker next year? Will a young guy such as Tevin Jackson step in or do we have someone just as talented waiting in the wings?

A: If I'm being honest, I have to tell you that I haven't talked to a single person within the Texas program offer up much hope that Irby is ever going to be a significant contributor as a player again. He suffered a very serious injury and it's a very unfortunate situation. It's possible that he could make a comeback in 2010, but I don't know how high the bar will be for him when/if he comes back.

Second, it's probably a combination of a lot of little things. Don't forget that the loss of Collins has forced the staff's hand with the receivers and that academic hit cost the Longhorns a security blanket in the passing game. I'm not sure that enough attention has been made of the loss of Collins and the trick-down impact. Junior receiver James Kirkendoll has not been the impact player that I envisioned he'd become and Malcolm Williams can't seem to get on the field. Really and truly, there are a lot of layers to this situation.

Finally, I'm not sure if you're paying attention or not, but Emmanuel Acho is playing at a very high level and Keenan Robinson isn't far behind. Both players have represented major upgrades over the talent that has previously been in place. If Jared Norton can come back strong in 2010, the Longhorns will feel very good about their top four (including Dustin Earnest). Expect a couple of freshmen to find their way into the mix for playing time and don't discount emerging inside linebacker Ryan Roberson, who is starting to play a little more each week.

Q: (Dades82)- I was curious if you could discuss the three most entertaining recruitments you've covered. I don't know what those would include... late switches, the circus surrounding, ect.. Would like to hear some of the behind the scenes stuff that we never hear about.

A: Let's start with some of the wilder recruitments I've covered. Nothing will ever top the perfect storm year of 2005 when Texas was recruiting three five-star prospects - with each one bringing a five-ring circus to the big top.

Ryan Perrilloux is still the only prospect I've ever covered that answered the telephone while eating dinner at the Southern Miss head coach's house� or anyone other head coach's house for that matter. When we tried to end the call because we were horrified that we had interrupted his visit, he told us not to worry about it and he did the interview at the table.

Meanwhile, Martellus Bennett argued with his father about his destination in the minutes before he announced his decision and Fred Rouse reportedly got caught "treating his Glaucoma" in San Antonio and become untouchable for the Texas staff, despite the fact that Rouse's family was practically begging for the Longhorns to take him.

All of that happened at the same time. It was just a wild year.

As far as crazy stuff that I've seen, I personally witnessed a five-star running back running the beaches of Hawaii in his birthday suit, watched another five-star receiver put the head coach of the program he was committed to on the phone with another five-star player after telling him that his coach could get him a better deal (the kid switched a week later without taking visit) and watched another five-star prospect receive female relations from a co-ed in a bar - all in a 24-hour timeframe.

I've seen and heard a lot of crazy stuff in the last decade. One day I'll have to write a book.

Q: (ZoomAir3)- Do you think the OU defense is all the hype? I mean they did not really show up against BYU when they needed to. This being the same BYU team got thumped by FSU.

A: I think Oklahoma defense is great at stuffing the run, especially when their linebackers can get downhill. Their front four is sensational, but their linebackers are soft in pass coverage and their secondary has been a weak link for the last five seasons.

Q: (colliedp)- On Monday you mentioned Mack Brown was on edge and in fact, the sarcastic Mack is your favorite Mack of all. Reading about Mack's dark side so to speak, is one of my personal favorite topics because it's something that is basically ignored by those outside the program. As I've heard you and others mention in the past, to get where he's at in his industry takes a lot more than just being a smooth talker and a gentleman. It takes someone with a don't F me, don't cross me, and did I mention don't F me type of attitude. I actually prefer to know that our King of Longhorn Nation has a side that you don't want to cross and a humor that is equivalent to a sailor. It's reassuring and helps me sleep. Sense you've been around the Texas program for 10 years or so, I figured you'd have multiple stories on this topic. Could you enlighten those of us who have not seen the sarcastic Mack on what he's like? Does badass Mack actually exist? Any personal stories or 3rd person stories would be much appreciated.

Assuming that The SEC champion is in the title game and the rest of the cards fall into place for a BCS disaster. That means either Florida or Bama loss 2 games this year, Cincinnati losses, VTech losses again, Oregon runs the table and Texas losses. Who would you prefer, to see in the BCS NC game vs. the SEC Champ? A one-loss Miami, a one-loss Oregon, an undefeated Iowa, or a undefeated Boise State squad? Who's most deserving?

Bonus round: Have you ever thought about writing another book about the real Mack Brown and all of his faces? Maybe a collage of all the stories you've collected and witnessed over the years? I'm not going to lie, I would read that in a heart beat!

A: There's no question that Mack is like most people in that he has different sides to his personality. While I think he's as genuinely concerned about the general welfare of others as any coach I've ever covered, I've also heard and seen my share of Mack that he doesn't always open up the public.

I'll give you an example from a few years ago when a Texas player was injured at practice and we checked with a former recruit who we felt like we had a very good relationship with about the situation and he turned around and told Mack about it. I'm not going to get into the specifics, but let me just say that Mack let me know in no uncertain terms that if it ever happened again, my rear-end would be grass and he would be the lawn-mower. If you want to cross horns with Mack, the best way to do that is to cross the line with one of his players or even the perception of the line. Mack can be a flat out bulldog and he can be an imposing figure for younger reporters.

As for your second question, man, you really didn't paint a picture of an exciting or deserving BCS championship match-up. If Texas only loses once, I'd probably go with the Longhorns or the Hurricanes in your current scenario.

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